How the Knight Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is Like the Ford Foundation, But Alot Worse

The Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics purports to be an agent for change in college sports. Yes, that college sports which now, after the basketball indictments and trials, has no idea who’s corrupt, and who’s not.

Knight is hardly an agent for change. They are all really nice people. But they don’t get the basic facts about college athletics. They continually assemble fat-cat bureaucrats, to scratch heads together. Everyone at the Knight Foundation is well-paid, and the attendees are well paid — all well into the silk-tie stage of bureaucratic ponderousness which can only persist if everyone has a really good salary and pension.

Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, the Ford Foundation (at the time, the largest charitable foundation in the world) was alot like Knight Foundation, throwing mountains of money at Milton Friedman and his ‘Chicago School,’ of economists, who were running around South America, encouraging dictators like Chile’s Pinochet, but other autocrats and neo-liberal fascists, who wanted the poor to assume a larger portion of their countries’ debts. And Ford was, with its multi-millions, funding all those dictators and neo-liberals. The figurative and literal carnage was staggering. Corpses everywhere, both human and governmental.

Ford thought they had been doing good, but they finally figured it out, in the 1970′ –, that all the millions of dollars they had so charitably thrown around at these neo-liberals was destroying people and economies, in part because Ford had failed to make their millions flow to anyone other than rich people who held the power.

Knight Foundation is pre-1970’s Ford Foundation. Amy Perko, a great person, with good intentions, and also her employer Knight Foundation, have failed to finally understand that the same kind of radical re-ordering of the Knight Foundations is required. It’s time to end the habit of inviting fat-cat lobbyists like Tom McMillen, or other bureaucrats, to attend meetings. It’s time, just as Ford Foundation did it, to start throwing the money at the sector which is getting screwed: the (primarily black) players who have no agent, no union, no pension, no health coverage, no workers’ comp  — but who are the beasts of burden for the production of what is now something like $8 billion annually.  The little guy needs huge help.

First example? Ramogi Huma, who has been laboring with few resources, and quietly and respectfully, for the interests of the big-time college athlete who gets ripped off by so many of those on the Knight Board, should be a board member. Or try Colin Kaepernick, whose presence might do a whole lot more than some board member from some irrelevant Div 3 school.  Knight should be funding Andy Schwarz’ HBCU effort to set up some alternative to the pathological NCAA big-time sports model, and put Schwarz on its Board. Knight should be funding Ann McKee, and her BU Concussion. Try David Ridpath of the Drake Group, who knows from personal experience how convoluted, if not sinister, the NCAA enforcement process is for those characters who are, unlike big-time coaches and administrators, lacking in any political or financial heft.

In the 1960’s, the Ford Foundation spent a miniscule portion of its budget on human rights, and much of its spending went to funding academics who did studies; by the 70’s and 80’s, Ford did a U-Turn, and decided to spend a mammoth $30 million on grass roots human rights work in Latin America; as Naomi Klein summarized, “in the mid-70’s, Ford transformed itself from a producer of ‘technical expertise’ for the … Third World, to its role as a leading funder of human rights activism.”

Knight’s spending and operational priorities show that the organization fails to understand the central tension in college sports, which is the same one Marvin Miller confronted when he was hired (at zero salary) in 1967, to try to gin-up some union protections for MLB players: the owners have all the power and money. Now, the NCAA school-owners have all the power and money.  And it’s awful easy, if you’re Amy Perko, or other Knight people, to just work with and support all those really nice, and well-dressed bureaucrats who now live off of basketball and football millions generated primarily by black players who have almost zero voice.

And, though the status of current D-1 football and basketball players is probably worse than that of the MLB players who Miller pulled out of the economic gutter after 1967, Knight Foundation has done little to help the underclass in a college sports business model which generates some $8-10 BILLION per year. Yet Knight operates as though the raging riot of commerce which is today’s college sports is not much different that it was back in the early 1990’s.

Knight, right now, wastes its time and money. It needs to be a radical agent for change.

First agenda item?:  SAFETY FIRST.  Long-term health coverage for football players who are stunt men for the public’s pleasure. And: Non-Negotiable.

Knight’s main problem? Nobody there is pissed off.

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About brewonsouthu

Michigan and Big Ten fan, former lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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